Members Reports and Photos
DAY 1: MONDAY 30 JUNE 2014
LONG FIELD TRIP TO NORTH MAYO IN CONJUNCTION WITH bnfc
LEADERS: DAVID SUDDABY, GERRY SHARKEY & DECLAN DOOGUE
Some 10 members of DNFC
joined in this BNFC organised outing, based at The Broadhaven Bay Hotel,
Belmullet. On the evening of our arrival there was a short introductory meeting,
where we were given our itinerary and a set of explanatory notes.
Monday 30th June. We set off at 9.30am, in glorious sunshine, to Portnafrankagh Bay where David Suddaby of Birdwatch Ireland was awaiting us to open the moth trap (a Robinson with 125W bulb), which he had set the previous night at his home at Tarmon, at the southern tip of the Mullet. There were some 39 species of moth caught, including Large and Small Elephant Hawk-Moths, Shark, White Ermine, Buff Ermine, Flame Shoulder, Burnished Brass, Broom, Magpie and Purple Clay Moths. All were easy to observe as they were content to stay in the egg boxes that David had provided for them in the moth trap. Many of the members were seeing some of these moths for the first time and much excitement was generated in observing their exotic colourings and markings.
Gerry Sharkey of DNFC then led members down to the shallow-sloped sandy beach at Portnafrankagh Bay where tide and wind conditions allow for young sand dunes and ‘machair’ grassland to form. Gerry explained the various stages of dune formation. At the first level plants such as Atriplex laciniata and Elytrigia atherica become established as their membranes can hold fluid that doesn’t get dissipated into the salt water. They absorb nutrients from seaweeds, shells and dead crabs. At the second level sand gets trapped in the long thin roots of plants such as Elymus arenarius, which can tolerate some salt, and gradually plants get raised above sea level. At the third level, where plants rarely get covered with water, Ammophilia arenaria (Marram) acts as a windbreak and this allows other plants to get established.
The machair grassland, unique to north-west Ireland and western Scotland, is formed by hillocks of small shell fragments being blown inland, usually to an area where trees were cleared for agricultural use in the distant past. Seaweed deposited by early farmers would have provided a protective cover as well as nutrients. Kelp in the sea next to the machair reduces the impact of wave erosion. In the machair, plants such as Festuca rubra, Agrostis stolonifera, Plantago maritima, Honckenya peploides, Salsola kali, Eryngium maritimum, Tripleurospermum maritimum among others were observed.
Our next stop was at Annagh Head, where we lunched and were at leisure to break into small groups to observe plants, rocks, and birdlife. But a stoat and her young scampering among the rocks stole the show. Some plants observed here were Ranunculus flammula, Calluna vulgaris, Rumex acetosa, Anagallis tenella, Festuca ovina, Thymus serpyllifolium and Hydrocotyle vulgaris. Bernard Anderson of BNFC gave a very interesting impromptu talk on the geological foundation of Ireland and showed us examples of the Mullet gneiss, one of Ireland’s oldest rocks.
In the afternoon we drove to the southern tip of the Mullet where we stopped at Termon Hill where Deirble’s Twist, a sculpture by Michael Bulfin and the last on the North Mayo Sculpture Trail, is situated. From here there was a wonderful view across to Achill. We spent some time on this exposed headland and were delighted to find Pedicularis sylvatica, Schoenus nigricans, Selaginella selaginoides, and Narthecium ossifragum. We also found some healthy specimens of Ophrys apifera in an area between the road and the small car park.
Our final destination of the day was to nearby Fallmore where the ruins of St Dervla’s chapel, dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, stands on a small hilltop. It is surrounded by the old Fallmore graveyard where there is a memorial to the ten fishermen who drowned in a 1927 fishing tragedy.
After dinner Gretta Byrne, manager of the Céide Fields Visitor Centre, gave us an introductory talk on the Céide Fields and other archaeological sites in N. Mayo, which we were to explore on the morrow.
Elephant Hawkmoth Mothers White Ermine
Annagh Head Machair
Gunnera tinctoria Cepaea nemoralis Eryngium maritimum
sea-borne Peat erosion of Peat
Photograph © C Shier
DAY 2: tuesdAY 1 JUly 2014
LONG FIELD TRIP TO NORTH MAYO IN CONJUNCTION WITH bnfc
LEADERS: gretta byrne & joan semple
Having enjoyed an introductory presentation by Gretta Byrne the previous evening, we set off on a bright and sunny morning to visit the Céide Fields. This part of North Mayo was originally covered by a forest of Oak (Quercus), Hazel (Corylus) and Birch (Betula) before it was cleared by the first farmers about 5,700 years ago. These settlers created fields and enclosures with stone walls that were used primarily for livestock farming. The temperature at that time was up °o°2°C warmer than at present, which would have supported almost year-round growth.
The area was farmed for several centuries before being abandoned, but may have been farmed again at a later stage during the Bronze Age. From pollen core studies, blanket peat formation commenced at the Céide Fields about 4,000 years ago. It is now clear that peat formation was not contemporaneous across the entire N. Mayo region, but began at different times in different locations.
Led by Gretta, we explored the hillside above the visitor centre, where sections of the field walls have been exposed. The blanket bog vegetation at the site included: Purple Moor-grass (Molinia caerulea), the Common Sedge (Carex nigra), Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Bell Heather (Erica cinerea), Cross-leaved Heath (Erica tetralix), Sphagnum species, Tormentil (Potentilla erecta), Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum), and the Hard Fern (Blechnum spicant). It also contained two species of orchid, the Heath Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata) on the acidic bog, and the Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) on the more alkaline areas along the boardwalk, which overlay an earlier gravel path.
Butterflies spotted at the Céide Fields included a Red Admiral (Vanessa alalanta) and several Meadow Browns (Maniola jurtina). Across the road, Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) were wheeling in the updraughts and nesting on the steep and very inaccessible cliffs.
After lunch at the visitor centre we set off to visit Rathlackan Court Tomb, which was built about 5,500 years ago. The site includes a large enclosure, which surrounded both the tomb and also a square-shaped house some 3 m x 3 m in size. The tomb consisted of a large circular court and three chambers. Archaeological excavation of the tomb led to the discovery of 205 pottery shards and 88 stone artefacts, with chert scrapers being the most numerous. Analysis of soil samples from the area indicated that the food types eaten by the inhabitants included crab apples (Malus sylvestris), hazelnuts (from Corylus avellana), the fruit of the Bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) and the Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa).
The group then travelled
further east the see the Brestagh Ogham Stone, which stands about 2.5m high.
Ogham was the earliest form of writing in Ireland and it dates from around the
4th Century and was in use for about 500 years. A short distance up the road we
stopped again to view the remains of a Wedge Tomb.
The final stop of the afternoon was at the Round Tower in Killala. This is one of the best preserved round towers in Ireland. It was built between 1170 and 1238, stands 26 metres tall and has a diameter of 5.5 metres. The tower was part of a monastic settlement whose origins go back to the 5th Century when St. Patrick appointed Muiredach as the first Bishop of Killala. The tower was struck twice by lightning and repaired in 1804, but a bulge is still visible on its southwest side.
Suitably fortified against the late afternoon heat by copious amounts of ice cream, the group headed back to the Broadhaven Bay Hotel, where a mini conversazione was held after dinner. A broad range of projects, including plants, stones, photographs, drawings and sea-borne peat were put on display. A presentation was made to Joan Semple, the outgoing Excursions Secretary from BNFC, in recognition of the excellent work that she had put in, not only in organising the North Mayo trip, but also the joint outing to Derrygonnelly in Co. Fermanagh last year.
Sub-peat Neolithic Fields Sub-peat Walls, Ceide Fields
Enclosure, Ceide Fields Board Walk, Ceide Fields
Rathlackan Court Tomb Killala Round Tower
Erica cinerea Cladonia floerkeana Dactylorhiza maculata
nesting Fulmar Narthecium ossifragum
Photographs©© C Shier
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